Arkansas is known for its rural heritage and natural resources like lakes, mountains and forests. Because of this, a lot of people imagine living off-grid in a cabin or farm in Arkansas.
Before you act on your dream, know that living off grid legally in Arkansas can be a challenge.
Want to more about living off grid? Read:
Is Living Off-Grid Legal in Arkansas?
Off-grid living is usually legal in Arkansas. The only state law which might make it illegal for you to go completely off-grid is a requirement to hook up to the municipal sewer system (and pay for it) if it is near your property.
In addition to the sewer law, Arkansas has many rules and regulations about which types of off-grid systems are allowed, how they must be installed, and permit requirements. If you want to install a large rainwater harvesting system, recycle graywater or use something other than septic for waste, you will experience a lot of obstacles.
Local Zoning Laws and Off-Grid Living in Arkansas
Bear in mind that whether you can live off grid legally ultimately comes down to local codes and zoning regulations.
Many rural counties in Arkansas have relaxed zoning laws, which means freedom to do things like raise animals and farm. But a lack of rules also means your neighbors can do whatever they want.
Sometimes it’s better to live in an area with very detailed regulations so you don’t end up living next door to a smelly hog farm or a crowded subdivision.
You might also find it useful to read: Homestead Declarations and Why You Need One
Off-Grid Solar in Arkansas
Off-grid solar is completely legal in Arkansas. Some rural counties have very relaxed regulations and you may not even need a permit for installing roof-mounted solar panels.
However, in most counties (even most rural ones), you will likely need a building permit and an electric permit to install solar.
You may also be required to have a licensed master electrician install the solar system and have to get the system inspected after completion. Even when permits are required though, the process is generally fast and easy.
Off-Grid Wind Energy in Arkansas
The rules about installing wind turbines on your property in Arkansas are much more complicated than those about solar panels. You can expect local zoning regulations about the size and height of wind turbines allowed.
Frustratingly, many counties don’t even mention wind turbines in their regulations, which can make it even more difficult to get approval for them. You might also be prohibited from installing wind turbines because of EPA laws designed to protect birds or bats.
If you want to install larger wind turbines or systems which will disturb more than 1 acre of land, then you’ll have to get a Stormwater Construction General Permit. You can read more about the Arkansas state wind turbine rules here.
Off-Grid Water Laws
In Arkansas, you are legally able to use the surface water on or next to your land. You don’t need any permits to use the water so long as you “share the water supply with other riparian users.” The water must be put to “beneficial use.”
If you use more than 1 acre-foot (325,851 gallons) of surface water per year, you’ll need to report your water usage to the Arkansas Natural Resources Commission.
You can even use surface water that isn’t connected to your property, such as by diverting water from a nearby stream. However, in this case, it would be considered a non-riparian withdrawal and you’d need to get a permit first. Currently, the permit application for non-riparian water use costs $500.
You will need a permit to construct a well in Arkansas. The permitting process varies depending on which county you live in.
The well driller must have an Arkansas Water Well Contractor’s License. There is a separate certification required for installing the well pump. These certifications are not easy to get, so it’s not feasible to dig your own well in Arkansas.
In general, Arkansas is a water-rich state. However, there are several designated Critical Groundwater areas. In a time of drought, withdrawals from wells in these areas may be regulated – though it has never happened and would require significant legislation before any limits were imposed.
Non-domestic well water users who have the ability to withdraw 50,000 gallons a day (35 gpm flow rate) must report their monthly withdrawals to the Arkansas Natural Resources Commission.
Rainwater harvesting exists in a legal gray zone in Arkansas. The state currently uses the 2006 Plumbing Code. The code only mentions rainwater captured in cisterns and allows it “where a potable public water supply is not available.”
However, there are proposed updates to the 2006 Code. These modernize the code to specifically mention rainwater harvesting under “Non-potable Water Systems.”
Under the proposed updates, rainwater harvesting systems would be legal under these conditions:
- Is designed by a professional engineer licensed in Arkansas
- Has appropriate cross-connections safeguards
- Complies with Arkansas Plumbing Code
It’s unclear whether these regulations mean you would have to get a licensed engineer for even simple harvesting systems (which would be ridiculous and a huge burden).
Despite the lack of clarity about rainwater harvesting rules in Arkansas, many people in the state still collect rainwater. The state even encourages it and mentions it on government websites.
So long as you aren’t creating a nuisance and are keeping things clean, you shouldn’t have any legal problems harvesting rainwater in barrels in Arkansas – but do stay informed about any updates to the law.
Sewage and Waste Removal
As is the case with most states, sewage treatment is where you will encounter the most legal regulations. The law states that, if your home is located within 300 feet of a sewer line, you must connect to it; you will not be legally allowed to use any onsite sewage treatment system.
If you live away from a sewer line and want to use an off-grid method, you will need to get a permit first. Permits are issued by the Arkansas Department of Health. You’ll have to submit system plans and layout, soil test results, a percolation test, and other information. After construction, you’ll need to have the system inspected, and only then will you get a Permit for Operation.
Here you can read the full Arkansas rules and regulations for onsite wastewater systems.
Can I build my own septic tank?
Arkansas allows many types of septic tanks. However, you won’t be able to build your own septic system. They must be made by licensed individuals. Becoming a licensed manufacturer is impractical because you’d need equipment (such as vacuum testing equipment for leakage) to test your DIY septic tanks before it could get approval.
Compost toilets are legal in Arkansas but they must be approved under NSF standard 41. You can even use only a compost toilet in your home. Waste from the compost can be buried onsite or taken to a landfill.
If your home also has running water, you’ll need to have an approved method for getting rid of the graywater. This usually means septic. If you have a larger property, you might be able to use soil absorption, but the system will need to meet requirements and a permit.
- How Do Compost Toilets Work? A Quick Explanation
- DIY Composting Toilet 5 Gallon Bucket
- Off Grid Composting Toilet
Under the Appendix C of the 2006 Arkansas Plumbing Code, graywater recycling systems are legal. The law allows you to use graywater from bathtubs, showers, lavatories, clothes washers, and laundry trays for flushing toilets or urinals or for subsurface irrigation.
There are also strict rules to follow, including ones that require you to install graywater holding tanks, dye graywater a different color, and disinfect graywater before use.
Many people in Arkansas still use graywater to water their gardens, but it isn’t technically legal. There may be some workarounds for doing it legally but you’d have to check with your local county.
Under Arkansas state law, outhouses are not legal. You can’t even use an outhouse while building your property; you’ll need to get an approved compost toilet or rent portable toilets from a licensed company.
Can I Install My Own Septic Tank or Alternative System in Arkansas?
Arkansas law says that all onsite sewage systems (including septic and alternative systems) must be approved by a licensed installer.
If you want to install your own system, you will have to get a license first. You’ll also need to be licensed if you want to repair or clean out your own waste system.
The licensing process isn’t too difficult though. It involves attending training sessions and then taking a test.
Do you live off grid in Arkansas? Let us know about your experiences in the comments section below.